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Daily Howler: Right to the end, he Frankly proclaimed--Bush and Gore were equally dumb
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THE VIEW FROM MOUNT RICH! Right to the end, he Frankly proclaimed—Bush and Gore were equally dumb: // link // print // previous // next //

HOWLER HISTORY: How did George Bush reach the White House? We advise you to read all of this piece—including the segment, found at the end, in which we see the way Frank Rich covered Bush and Gore’s final debate. Through the campaign, the haughty scribe kept insisting: There was no difference between Bush and Gore. Anyone could see how foolish that was. But Frankly, we think you ought to see the way Rich struggled and strained to “prove” it.

Special report—Frankly, that’s Rich!

READ EACH INSTALLMENT: We had to laugh when a certain pundit reviewed Al Gore’s deeply troubling new film. But Frankly, Rich has produced this sort of nonsensical work for years. Be sure to read every installment:

PART 1: Gore was right on every big judgment—but Rich is in love with a narrative. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/31/06.

PART 2: Gore had made a string of sound judgments. But omigod! Someone laughed at his jokes! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/1/06.

PART 3: Gore was right in 2002, Rich says. In 2002, he said different. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/06.

PART 4: Before the Swift Boats, Rich invented Love Story. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/5/06.

Today, we Frankly revisit the way Rich “covered” Campaign 2000.

PART 5—THE VIEW FROM MOUNT RICH: Here at THE HOWLER, we love these moments. How foolish is our public discussion? On May 28, that McLaughlin Group discussed Gore’s film and future. McLaughlin himself was quite polite. But at one point—what fools we be!—Tony Blankley was allowed to say this, without a word of challenge or comment. Scripts like this simply never die:

BLANKLEY (5/28/06): But the new Al Gore, I think, is the Democratic Party's worst nightmare, because he is a now turned into a conviction and principled politician.

MARTIN WALKER: My God, what a shock!

BLANKLEY: And unfortunately, his principles and convictions are to the left of the center of the American political—

MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, I don't know about that! Also on global warming and Katrina?

BLANKLEY: And getting rid, and getting rid of the internal combustion engine?

Good God! Eight years after every automotive CEO in the world agreed that internal combustion will be ending, this can still be presented—without any challenge—as a comical put-down of Gore. How perfectly dumb is our public discussion? In a rational universe, this had ceased to be an issue as of January 1998 (links below). But in the world of our broken-down press corps, pseudo-cons still recite it when needed, knowing they’ll never be challenged.

But so it goes in the hapless world of our mainstream and liberal “press corps.” There’s nothing so dumb that it gets corrected, no matter how many years go by. And so it went during Campaign 2000, as the pundit corps’ mindless complaints about Gore rolled on. And Frankly, so it went as scribes like Rich said that the choice we faced—Bush or Gore?—just plain flat-out didn’t matter.

Frankly, Rich was always ready to mock the two hopefuls—and to say that Bush and Gore were just alike. After Super Tuesday, for example, his haughty wisdom was ours to admire:

RICH (3/11/00): Eight months to go—but hey, who's counting?—and we're stranded with two establishment, tightly scripted, often robotic candidates who are about as different from one another as J. Crew and Banana Republic. Both are wealthy, Ivy-League-educated boomers who took safe paths through the Vietnam War, whose career advancement was greased by their dads, who advertise their intimacy with Jesus, who reek of smarmy soft money and who will do anything to win, whether it be Mr. Gore's lying about his own Congressional voting record in a debate or Mr. Bush's heartless exploitation of women's fears of breast cancer in a scurrilous attack ad.
Poor Frank! The voters had selected a matched set of bozos! Bush and Gore were just alike! Yes, it was hard to get much dumber than this—even before we saw Bush run a war. But as Rich gazed down at Bush and Gore, the great savant saw no real difference. And yes, they were both like Bill Clinton!
RICH: In the true Clinton manner, both are also chameleons, ready to don new guises in a flash—from Mr. Gore's down-home wardrobe to Mr. Bush's last-minute emergence as a champion of campaign finance reform, patients' rights and clean air. The substantive disputes between the men are, in truth, minimal in a prosperous post-cold-war era when both parties aspire to Rockefeller Republicanism (literally so in that each standard-bearer is the prince of a brand-name American dynasty).
Frankly, what was the difference? Rich asked. And there you see the dumb-ass judgment which eventually sent George Bush to the White House—and gave us our miserable War in Iraq. There you see the type of Rich insight we got all through Campaign 2K.

Yes, gazing down from the heights of Mount Rich, the scribe expressed this brilliant view right through November 2000. For example, as the conventions drew near, Rich knew how boring Gore would be. “It’s not good news for Democrats that Mr. Gore is said to be writing his own acceptance speech,” he snidely wrote. And then, he snidely explained away the jump in the polls Gore got from his speech. Yes, he actually wrote it: “Mr. Gore has pulled ahead, at least for now, because he did a much cleverer job than his rival of giving his inauthenticity the gloss of credibility.” (Headline: “Survival of the Fakest.” No, we’re not making that up.) And Frankly, Rich never abandoned his view, in which Bush and Gore were a perfect matched set. Four days after Bush and Gore’s first debate, for example, when voters were in desperate need of some guidance, the mighty god who lives on Mount Rich returned to his most wondrous metaphor:

RICH (10/7/00): By Wednesday it was clear that there hasn't been this much hype for a flop show since the Olympics. The first great debate didn't make or break anything except the viewer's patience...

Still, I wouldn't have missed the debate for anything. Though it added exactly zero to our knowledge of either Al Gore or George W. Bush, it is a keeper for any time capsule of America 2000. At a cultural moment when many voters are forced constantly to make that hard choice between the Gap and Banana Republic, what is more apt than the spectacle of two princely boomers in identical outfits hypothesizing about how to spend a surplus of infinitely elastic trillions that both assume will last indefinitely?

They were still the Gap and Banana Republic—still a matched set of “princely boomers.” (And they wore “identical outfits!”) Rich’s readers got predictable, lame-brained guidance. Rich played theater critic again—and every construction let us know that these two men were equally hopeless:
RICH: Though Mr. Bush is fond of boasting that he's a man of principle, not “polling and focus groups,” he was just as scripted as his opponent—no small feat...While Mr. Bush may spare us Mr. Gore's insufferable, schoolmarmish tone, his “affable” alternative is to speak to us as if we've all been held back together with him in grade school.
One was insufferable—and one was just stupid. And Iraq was around the next corner.

And yes, Rich maintained this idiot’s pose to the end. Here’s the way his column ended on the weekend before we all voted:

RICH (11/4/00): In 2000, the fool is the guy who works 24/7 and lets us see all the sweat.

That would be Al Gore, who is a hyperventilating fount of worst-case scenarios and details we don't want to bone up on (Dingell-Norwood, anyone?). He is the truly stupid one, for he has given George W. the opening to embody the contented America that his own administration helped to create even as he has failed to weave all his endless policy details into an articulate message that might offer more than populist sloganeering as an alternative to don't-worry-be-happy. The vice president hasn't even been able to make his criticism of his opponent coherent.

In fact, Gore’s criticism of Bush had been quite coherent: Bush will serve the top one percent, Gore had said, again and again. But, perhaps because big pundits like Rich are found so high in that lucky-duck cohort, they had simply become too stupid and daft to think that this choice made a difference. Instead, Rich banged away on his favorite nit-picked details. Gore had dared say “Dingell-Norwood!” the great pundit said, rolling his eyes at the candidate’s failure. How dare he make us “bone up on details?” Much more on this disgraceful sneering by Rich will be offered below.

Even today, Rich can’t make himself state the obvious—that he, Frank Rich, judged very unwisely during Campaign 2000. Even today, he can’t drop his pose—or his love of inane, nit-picked details. According to Rich’s recent column, Gore has judged correctly on every world issue. But omigod! Gore’s film includes a multicultural audience! And they even laughed at his joke! Gore was always right about warming. But as a boy, he owned a rifle! Rational people will look at that and wonder what sort of dysfunction confronts us. But voters have been afflicted by this Rich dysfunction every step of the way—all along.

And yes, he kept it up through the recount. Here was the judgment from high on Mount Rich as those who cared sweated out Florida:

RICH (11/18/00): Collectively Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush have succeeded in uniting the country in exactly one bipartisan belief—that neither of them deserves to be president.
What a consummate, world-class fool. (Headline: “May the Best Man Lose.”) Frankly, you just can’t get any dumber. You can’t be more dumb than Frank Rich.

Here at THE HOWLER, we were struck by that ludicrous column Rich wrote—by that ludicrous piece two Sundays ago. Gore had been right on Iraq, Rich said. But there were no scientists in his new film! As usual, Rich dredged a string of gong-show objections, intended to offset Gore’s sound judgments. We thought you deserved to know a key fact: Frankly, on the road to Iraq, this is the way this empty man clowned, every damn step of the way.

How bad were the judgments handed down from Mount Rich while Campaign 2K was decided? We strongly advise you to read a bit further—to see what Rich was complaining about when he rolled his eyes at Gore for having said those funny words: “Dingell-Norwood.”

IMPORTANT—GORE ON DINGELL-NORWOOD: Like so many in his cohort, Rich will always beat the bushes seeking absurd complaints about Gore. And so it was after Bush and Gore’s third debate, as a string of scripted pundits ridiculed Gore for having said that name—for having said the funny words, “Dingell-Norwood.”

Every pundit took his or her turn—and dumb-ass Rich played too. According to Rich, when Gore had stupidly said “Dingell-Norwood,” he had dared to “hyperventilate” about “details we don't want to bone up on.”

Let’s go back and see what Gore said. Let’s see what had Rich so upset.

Gore first mentioned the bill in question during the first Q-and-A of the evening. (This was the “town hall forum” debate, in St. Louis.) Gore had been asked a question about HMOs, by a voter named James Hankins. Gore’s time to answer was slightly compacted because Missouri governor Mel Carnahan had died in a plane crash the night before. Remember, though, this was the final debate—the one for all the marbles:

HANKINS (10/17/00): How do you feel about HMOs and insurance companies making the critical decisions that affect people's lives, instead of the medical professionals? And why are the HMOs and insurance companies not held accountable for their decisions?

GORE: Mr. Hankins, I don't feel good about it, and I think we ought to have a patients bill of rights to take the medical decisions away from the HMOs and give them back to the doctors and the nurses.

It would be hard to be more direct. After a tribute to Carnahan’s life and service, Gore returned to his point:
GORE: Now, Mr. Hankins, I think that the situation that you describe has gotten completely out of hand. Doctors are giving prescriptions, they're recommending treatments, and then their—their recommendations are being overruled by HMOs and insurance companies. That is unacceptable.

I support a strong national patients' bill of rights. It is actually a disagreement between us [gesturing at Bush]. The national law that is pending on this—the Dingell-Norwood bill, a bipartisan bill—is one that I support and that the governor does not.

LEHRER: Time is up, Mr. Vice President. Two minutes response, Governor Bush.

Was something hard to grasp about that? Gore said he supported a patients bill of rights—a bill which would take decisions away from HMOs. He said such a bill was pending in Congress—and he gave its name (which you’ll see was important). Gore said he supported this bill. And uh-oh! He said that Bush didn’t.

Gore had made a clear, concise statement. But to Rich, Gore was “stupidly” talking about “details we don't want to bone up on.” Let’s see why Gore named this bill—the action all Great Pundits mocked.

In his response, Bush instantly started dissembling. He was eager to mislead Hankins—although pundits like Rich would never deign to notice, to comment or to care:

BUSH (continuing directly): I—I, too, want to extend my prayers to the—and—and—and blessings, God's blessings on the families whose lives were up—overturned yeste—to—today—last night. It's a tragic moment.

Actually, Mr. Vice President, it's not true. I—I do support a national patients bill of rights. As a matter of fact, I brought Republicans and Democrats together to do just that in the state of Texas to get a patients bill of rights through. It requires a different kind of leadership style to do it, though...

It's time for our nation to come together and do what's right for the people, and I think this is right for the people. You know, I—I—I support a national patients bill of rights, Mr. Vice President, and I—I want all people covered. I don't want the law to supercede good law like we've got in Texas.

Bush’s dissembled twice in this passage. In fact, that patients bill of rights had passed in Texas despite Bush’s opposition. And though Bush did support a national bill of rights, he did not support Dingell-Norwood. Bush was being slick—and deceptive. So Gore stepped in to explain the distinction—and he named the bill in question once again:
GORE (continuing directly): We have a direct disagreement on that.

LEHRER: Just a minute, Mr. Vice President. I wanted to—you know, the way the rules go here now, two minutes, two minutes, and then I'll decide whether we go on, okay?

GORE: Right.

LEHRER: So, what I want to make sure is, we understand here, is before we go on to another question in the health area, would you agree that you two agree on a national patients bill of rights?

GORE: Absolutely not. I referred to the Dingell-Norwood Bill. It is the bipartisan bill that is now pending in the Congress. The HMOs and the insurance companies support the other bill that's pending; the one that the Republican majority has put forward. They like it because it doesn't accomplish what I think really needs to be accomplished, to give the decisions back to the doctors and nurses and to give you a right of appeal to somebody other than the HMO or insurance company; let you go to the nearest emergency room without having to call an HMO before you call 911; to let you see a specialist, a specialist if you need to; and it has strong bipartisan support. It is being blocked by the Republican leadership in the Congress and I specifically would like to know whether Governor Bush will support the Dingell-Norwood Bill, which is the main one pending.

Bush was pulling a bait-and-switch, conflating two vastly different bills. Gore insisted that he stick to the point—and again, he named the bill in question. It’s hard to know how he could have made this distinction without naming the bill at issue. Below, we’ll show you what Bush said next. But it’s obvious why Gore named Dingell-Norwood. Naming the bill was the only way he could make this essential distinction.

Naming the bill was an obvious move. Gore did it to help answer Hankins’ question. But on Mount Rich, they have a name for such tedious conduct. On Mount Rich, they call that “hyperventilating” about “details we don't want to bone up on.” Translation: On Mount Rich, they don’t give a flying f*ck whether Hankins and his family live or die. Result? Rich rolled his eyes at what Gore said—as all his daft colleagues were now doing.

It’s hard to express sufficient contempt when millionaire pundits behave in this manner. Why didn’t Rich and his loser colleagues want to “bone up on a detail like that?” Frankly, people like Rich have superlative health care—and they don’t give a flying fig if you do. We saw this same disgraceful clowning when Gore and Bradley debated health care in 1999. The late Mary McGrory didn’t bother herself with the details of that debate either. What did McGrory do instead? She wrote about Gore’s funny clothes; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/2/99.

And so it would be with the genius Rich when Gore and Bush debated health care. And Frankly, we find ourselves in Iraq today in part because the brilliant Rich wrote that insulting, rank column. He didn’t try to explain the large difference between the two stands Bush and Gore had taken. No, he simply sneered at Gore—as all his brilliant colleagues had been doing. And he told us that Gore had failed to mount a criticism of Bush. More on that below.

Frankly, we thought you should see the insulting way Rich sneered at Gore when he wrote that piece—and we thought you should see the insulting way he sneered at your family’s interests. And Frankly, we thought you should see how hard Rich worked to put dumb-ass Bush in the White House. High on Mount Rich, they just don’t care what kind of health care the peons are given. From high on Mount Rich, they like to sneer—and to say that these dopes are the same.

Tomorrow, we’ll ask that e-mailer’s question. Frankly, why did Rich do this?

GORE’S CRITICISM OF BUSH WAS QUITE COHERENT—UNLESS YOU WERE TOO RICH TO CARE: Even as he sneered at Gore for “hyperventilating” about “details we don't want to bone up on,” Rich informed his misled readers that Gorehasn't even been able to make his criticism of [Bush] coherent.” Really? Here’s what Gore said during that evening’s second Q-and-A, again discussing health care. Bush had just given his answer:

GORE (10/17/00): All right. Here we go again. Now, look, if—if you want someone who will spin a lot of words describing a whole convoluted process and then end up supporting legislation that is supported by the big drug companies, this [gesturing at Bush] is your man...
Gore had made this criticism for the whole year: Bush will support the top one percent—and Bush will support the big companies. Gore’s criticism was perfectly clear. And obviously, as we all can now see, Gore’s criticsm was perfectly accurate.

Rich’s comment was perfectly bogus. But then, he did that throughout this campaign.

By the way, here’s what Bush had said in that first Q-and-A, when Gore asked him again about Dingell-Norwood. Note how hard the Texan worked to avoid giving Gore (and Hankins) an answer:

GORE (10/17/00): It is being blocked by the Republican leadership in the Congress and I specifically would like to know whether Governor Bush will support the Dingell-Norwood bill, which is the main one pending.

LEHRER: Governor Bush, you may answer that if you'd like, but also I'd like to know how you see the differences between the two of you and we need to move on.

BUSH: Well, the difference is, is that I can get it done, that I can get something positive done on behalf of the people. That's what the question in this campaign is about. It's not only what's your philosophy and what's your position on issues, but can you get things done? And I believe I can.

LEHRER: All right.

GORE: What about the Dingell-Norwood bill?

LEHRER: All right. We're going to go now to another—

BUSH: I'm—I'm not quite through. let me finish, please.

LEHRER: All right. Go—go.

BUSH: I talked about the principles and the issues that I think are important in a patients bill of rights. You know, there's this—this kind of Washington, DC focus, “Well, it's in this committee,” or “It's got this sponsor.” If I'm the president, we're going to have emergency room care, we're going to have gag orders, women will have direct access to OB-GYN, people will be able to take their HMO insurance company to court. That's what I've done in Texas and that's the kind of leadership style I'll bring to Washington.

LEHRER: All right. Another—the next question also on—on a health issue. It's from—it will be asked by Marie Payne Clappey. And it goes to Governor Bush.

Asked three times, Bush refused to answer, offering several absurd formulations. Rich’s reaction? He didn’t criticize Bush for not answering; instead, he ridiculed Gore for asking! (Nor did he try to help his readers understand the difference between the two proposed bills.) But so it went throughout this campaign as fools like Rich put Bush in the White House. After all: Gore had been right on every world issue. But as a boy, he had once owned a gun!


VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: As early as January 1998, it was agreed—internal combustion is on the way out. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/25/06. Or read about it back in real time! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/29/99.